N8 AgriFood helps corporate sector plug Government funding gaps in landscape conservation

Projects across N8 AgriFood are unlocking the potential of the Corporate sector to plug Government funding gaps in landscape conservation.

The same amount of carbon that would be produced from the emissions of almost 70,000 flights from London to Sydney may be kept out of the atmosphere and locked in UK soil thanks to a pioneering scheme that capitalises on corporate ambitions to cut back carbon footprints.

The project which links private sector investment with the restoration and protection of UK peatlands, is just one of a number of schemes being spearheaded by scientists in the North of England to ensure the resilience of agricultural and natural landscapes while helping businesses meet their environmental ambitions.

Alongside peatland restoration, private funds are being utilised for what is known as Payments for Ecosystem Service schemes (PES) across the country. They involve businesses funding projects to protect or enhance the public goods they value, which may be under threat.

The creation of Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) follows this model. The approach was developed by multinational food and drinks giant Nestlé with sustainability advisors 3Keel and Prince Charles charity, Business in the Community, to establish a programme which harnesses commercial interest in how landscapes function to drive investment and innovation around strategic assets like soils, aquifers, access infrastructure, habitats and tree cover.

The UK is paving the way on an international scale with these novel approaches in the development of private schemes for the delivery of ecosystem services, pioneering the development of both the LENs approach and also The Peatland Code; the first scheme of its kind in the UK and one of only two such schemes internationally to protect peatlands.

Both schemes have been supported by research projects borne out of N8 AgriFood; a food resilience programme combining the expertise of the eight most research intensive universities in the North of England.

Professor Mark Reed, N8 AgriFood’s chair at Newcastle University, who is also the Research Lead on the Peatland Code as well as the Principal Investigator on a LENs project with Nestlé and 3Keel’s, said: “The scale of conservation challenges facing the UK countryside requires an increased level of investment which is unlikely to be delivered via public funds. However, the private sector are increasingly interested in paying for services from nature that benefit and protect their interests alongside delivering public goods.

“The UK has pioneered the development and operation of regional carbon markets via woodland planting and peatland restoration, and is now piloting schemes that can aggregate demand from a range of businesses to deliver services from a range of habitats and landscapes. Integrating Landscape Enterprise Networks with the design of future agri-environment schemes could leverage private investment alongside public funding to deliver additional benefits from nature.”

The UK’s Peatland Code, managed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Peatland Programme, is designed to facilitate private investment, and is being used to inform the development of other Payment for Ecosystems Services (PES) schemes for peatlands by the United Nations.

So far under the Code, four peatland projects have been validated, with 17 projects in the pipeline across England, Scotland and Wales. It has been estimated by IUCN UK Peatland Programme that projects validated and in the pipeline for the Peatland Code could avoid the loss of at least 100,000 t/CO2e (equivalent to 69,230 flights from London to Sydney) of peat stocks to the atmosphere. Private investment has been pivotal in making these projects possible, with additional finance supplementing public funding to facilitate projects that would have otherwise been impossible.

Carbon finance for the first project at Dryhope, Scotland came from Nex Group in 2018, delivering a saving of 6,484 tonnes CO2e, equivalent to 52 million kilometers (37,000 journeys from Lands End to John O’Groats) in an average UK car (based on 2018 DfT data).

The Landscape Enterprise Network approach is now broadening this peatland model to draw in a wider range of organisations to fund the delivery of a wider range of public goods from more varied landscapes and habitats.

Andrew Griffiths, head of sustainability at Nestlé UK, said: “Nestlé has been working closely with 3Keel on the development of the LENs concept as part of our wider collaboration with other businesses, NGOs, and civil society. We see it as an inspiring way to help protect our long-term interest in the health and performance of the landscapes in which we operate and source our raw materials.”

The N8 AgriFood programme is now calling on Government to co-ordinate its agri-environment payment schemes with the demand from the private sector to pay for public goods. Professor Reed said: “Government could encourage and co-ordinate with private schemes alongside publicly funded schemes. The UK has led Europe in the development of private schemes for the delivery of ecosystem services, pioneering the development of the Peatland Code and the LENs approach. These approaches have particular value in a post-Brexit policy environment where there may be greater scrutiny of compliance with World Trade Organisation rules, which place more constraints on publicly funded schemes than private place based schemes.”